Dogs have an entire language of their own, built off of body language. It’s easy for humans to misinterpret, or even completely bypass their dog stress signals, because the postures are sometimes so subtle that they can be missed. Identifying these stress signals, and removing your dog from the situation early can help you to avoid bad situations.
What is stress displacement? Displacement behavior is a normal behavior that is displayed out of context. Although the behavior is completely unrelated to the stressful situation, the dog may do it in order to relieve the stress that they are feeling.
Here Are 9 Common Stress Signals In Your Dog:
Dogs will whine for a variety of reasons, including anxiety. Some dogs may also whine when they are seeking attention. A dog may at first whine out of anxiety, and then realizes that by doing so they get more attention from you. This whining behavior then changes from anxiety to attention-seeking. Make note if your dog is whining because he’s anxious, or if he is just trying to get your attention, and act accordingly.
This is a form of stress displacement. When a dog is feeling anxious, it will express the anxiety in a different action, such as yawning. Dogs do not yawn when they are tired as humans do. A dog yawn means that it is anxious, or stressed about something. A dog may also yawn in anticipation of something, whether good or bad.
3. Licking Lips
This action is when the tongue reaches upwards towards the nose.
4. Avoiding Eye Contact
in dog-world, eye contact is a direct challenge. Direct challenges can make a dog feel uncomfortable. A dogs way of dealing with the stress of this challenge is to avoid eye contact, or to look away, signally that it is backing down from the challenge. So, for a dog to completely avoid eye contact with a human or dog, it may be a sign that he is anxious.
5. Shifting Weight Between The Feet
There’s a difference between pawing for attention, and shifting weight due to stress. Pawing for attention is typically when your dog seems like he is trying nudge you with his paw, almost in a “shake-a-paw” movement. Whereas shifting weight is more of a straight up and down movement of the paws.
6. Excessively Sniffing The Ground
By excessively sniffing the ground, your dog is doing anything BUT confronting the stressful situation. This one can be a hard one to pick up on, because sometimes Rover might have just stumbled upon a really yummy smell. In dog training, excessive sniffing is your dog telling you that he’s a bit stressed, and has had enough for this session.
7. Scratching (especially around the collar)
Scratching when anxious can apply to any part of the body, but for most dogs they typically will scratch around the collar area. This may happen even if your dog is not wearing a collar. It has yet to be studied why this area is the place that they choose to scratch when anxious, but it is. It’s just one of those things that dogs do in order to displace their stress.8.
8. Excessive Self Licking or Biting
This can become a MAJOR problem. Many dogs will start biting or licking themselves in order to displace their anxiety. Licking in itself will make them feel more calm, so they continue to do it whenever they feel anxious. Pretty soon this will be their go-to activity, and they will develop an obsession, to the point that they will lick or bite themselves when they are not feeling any stress at all. This is a problem because they can seriously injure themselves.
9. Shaking (when not dirty or wet)
Just as humans do, animals like to “shake off” their stress. Dogs also use a shake in order to get water or dirt off of their coats. A good rule of thumb is that if your dog is giving a big shake without being wet or dirty, then they are likely shaking off the stress of a situation.
A little bit of stress is okay for a dog, so if they’re showing some of these signs there’s no need to freak out. You know your dog better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to know when your dog is getting overwhelmed, so that you can remove them from the situation before it escalates.
Every dog is different, and they will deal with situations differently. What is stressful for one dog may be totally fine with another. Some dogs will resort to aggression when they are stressed, whereas others will completely freeze up.
We MUST pay attention to our dogs. The best way to avoid a stressful situation is to notice what makes your dog stressed, and then avoid those situations. Dogs are capable of doing unexpected things when their stress levels are high, so we have to be aware of their stress in order to keep the peace. That being said, don’t hover over your dog and freak out when they yawn one time. Find the balance between a little stress, and off-the-charts anxiety.
Some people find it useful to write down the situations that their dog is exhibiting these stress signals, and rate it on a stress scale of 1-10 to see if they can find a pattern.